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How to become a Financial Controller

Hand holding pen over paperwork with graphs

For those who like working with numbers, enjoy responsibility, and have superb organisational skills this job might be the one. It's a pivotal role as you'd be responsible for the financial control of a company. But what the does the position involve and how do you get into it?

What is a Financial Controller?

A financial controller is a senior role within accounting. They are responsible for all of the accounting operations of an organisation. Essentially they are the finance director’s second-in-command.

Responsibilities include:

  • Producing periodic financial reports
  • Ensuring a system of accounting records
  • Maintaining the company’s general ledger
  • Managing the accounts or finance team
  • Producing a comprehensive set of budgets and controls
  • Ensuring that all reported results comply with accounting standards and relevant legislation.

Simply put, a financial controller is responsible for all aspects of the smooth running of a finance department.

What qualifications do I need?

You will need a relevant degree in a subject such as Maths, Business, or Economics, as well as having completed an accountancy qualification. This could be from either the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) or the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ACA-ICAEW).

ACCA - consists of three levels: Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Strategic Professional. You will also need to complete relevant work experience. In total, it takes around 5 years to qualify.

CIMA - is split into Certificate (a standalone ‘beginner’ qualification), and Professional, which is split into three levels: Operational, Management, and Strategic. It takes 3-4 years to complete.

ACA-ICAEW - is made up of three levels: Certificate, Professional and Advanced, and you’ll need to do 450 days of work experience. It takes around 3 years to complete.

What skills and experience do I need?

You will need a lot of experience in finance and management as this is a role that requires you to balance the hands-on financial management of a company with high-level decision making.

Being able to communicate clearly and effectively is essential. You will need to be able to explain your reports clearly, ensuring that departments understand the implications of your findings.

Good analytical skills are essential. You’ll need to be able to look at complex data and decipher what it means for your company and the individual departments. You’ll then need to be able to react to the results, and work out how to improve or adapt to any changes.

Being able to work under pressure and to strict deadlines is a must. Reports need to be produced regularly, and month-end and financial year-end analysis will need to be done.

Pre-planning will reduce some of this workload but, at the end of the day, the data for a specific period is only available at a certain point. Financial controllers work under a great deal of time pressure to put out the reports, while still maintaining a flawless level of accuracy.

What can I earn?

The annual salary for a financial controller ranges from £51,000 to £72,000 depending on experience and location.* But there are financial controller positions that command much higher salaries - some well over £100,000 a year.

*Source: Reed average salary 2020


Want to become a financial controller? Check out our ACCA, CIMA and ACA pages for more information about the qualifications, and what is involved to become qualified.